By Darrin Bauming
WINNIPEG — In a hockey-crazed town where countless No. 16 jerseys adorned with a 'C' are still donned proudly by fans of a player no longer on their favorite team. Consider, to this day, only one man has ever worn the captain's 'C' for the modern iteration of the Winnipeg Jets.
And to the surprise of no one, when Andrew Ladd stepped onto the MTS Centre ice for the first time since his trade to the Blackhawks on Feb. 25, a roaring and proud ovation for Winnipeg's former captain followed a brief tribute on the big screen.
Ladd raised his stick in acknowledgement.
Ladd's "welcome home," as teammate Patrick Kane called it, was capped with his 20th goal of the season — his third in nine games since joining his new club and the third of the night in his Blackhawks' 4-0 blanking of the Jets — followed by a peculiar and delayed response by Jets fans when they realized their former hero scored in their rink once again.
"I always appreciated the fans and really the people of Winnipeg when I was here," said Ladd of his reception from the sold-out crowd of 15,294. "I appreciate the ovations and I really can't say enough about the city."
"It was different off the hop," added Ladd. "It's a weird feeling looking across and seeing a lot of friends and being back in this rink on the other side. But as the game went on it kind of got more into just playing hockey. A big two points for us. It's nice to get back into the win column."
Ladd, who led the Jets in scoring twice in his four-plus seasons in Winnipeg, has been paired with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews near consistently since re-joining the club where he won his second Stanley Cup in 2010. He has three goals and five points since being acquired by the Blackhawks on Feb. 25.
"(He's) comparable. He's on the puck. His quickness. He goes to the net. Good forechecker. Good along the wall. Good in tight areas," said Joel Quenneville, listing off Ladd's qualities, having now coached him in Chicago twice. "A competitive guy. That's what we had when we had him before, and I think he improved along the way here in Winnipeg. And we'll get the experience with him at this stage."
"He was such a well-liked guy in the room. They'll be happy for him," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "Other than (Dustin) Byfuglien saying he might take a run at him, everyone's happy to see Andrew."
But there were no crushing blows from a 260-pound blueliner — as Byfuglien joked pre-game, and no bloody noses via the elbow of Andrew Ladd, as his former teammate spit back.
Ladd just went to work, as he always has, and scored a goal in the rink where he has many times before since the Atlanta Thrashers relocated in the summer of 2011.
"That was awesome," added Kane of Ladd's goal Friday. "From the outside, he looked like he was ready to go tonight. He had a jump in his step and it was pretty cool the way the fans treated him. I thought that was awesome."